It hasn’t been a good day. In fact, for me, it’s been the worst day since all this started. That makes sense as it generally takes me about 3 weeks to get cabin fever and I’ve been mostly holing up for that long. I spent the day napping, thinking, drinking water and humidifying the house since it’s negative humidity here in the Back of Beyond and the wind is blowing in 45 mph gusts.
After a quiet day of just NOT looking at the news, reading a book and taking a nap, I decided to unwrap a large Ampersand panel I bought a long time ago and to try the tree painting on that. I’m more used to painting on panels than on canvas.
My easel is crappy, but I need to use it for this. I set it up and sketched the painting. I instantly felt better. I don’t know where I’m going with this or how it will work or even what I want it to look like, but who cares? It will be fun to try and to struggle with it.
I used to wonder how anyone could “like” sleeping. I never liked or disliked it, but now I like it. For those few hours there is no virus, no impossibly stupid news, none of this exists. Last night (in an effort to keep me asleep) my imagination sent me two Siberian Huskies who, on their own, moved into my house with Bear and Teddy. They were beautiful gray and white ones like Cody O’Dog. They had the intelligence and independence of every Siberian Husky I’ve known who had a half-way decent puppy-hood and love from a knowledgeable and experienced human.
Obviously, I didn’t want to wake up. Huskies are wonder-dogs in themselves, but they also represent a time in my life when I could run in the mountains. That’s really the ONLY thing for which I would turn back the clock and I wouldn’t even care that it was running in the hills that brought to my current walking limit (for now? forever?) of 2 miles and (because that’s not enough) my ride the bike-to-nowhere reality.
For those of you who have never been trapped at home before, I’m an expert having been stuck here twice in the last year due to injuries. I’m happy with it, but that took a little stragetizing. A routine helps. Exercise is necessary. The bike-to-nowhere is not boring if you get in the habit of riding it — and watch a movie or a bike riding video. My favorites are “Bike the World” which are free on Youtube (uninterrupted, too) and silent so you can listen to whatever you want. The routes are great, many crossing mountain passes such as the Gottard or the Furkha. My favorite at the moment is “Crossing the Picos Europa.”
Extroverted people have a bigger adjustment than I have. I wouldn’t be hanging out with people much under normal circumstances, but shopping would not be the sketchy thing it is now.
Last night I was thinking about a lecture given by Michael J. Preston in my very first class in college. It was Middle English Verse Romances, an upper division class that he’d given me permission to take. I won’t say I “got it.” I didn’t, but in the fullness of time I became a Swiss Medievalist Historian.
Life is weird.
On that day Mike Preston said, “You have to understand what life was like for people in the Middle Ages. Night was DARK. Dark like none of you have ever experienced. I have experienced it. I grew up on a farm in Eastern Washington.” We were to hear about that farm a LOT. He then went on to say something more (I paraphrase because it’s been 50 years), “Outside their houses, away from their fires, were brigands and thieves. But that wasn’t all. There were beasts – wolves and bears — and some that lived in their imaginations. Beasts and demons waiting, waiting, to prey on them. They knew nothing about disease or its causes; it was just another one of the faceless monsters lurking beyond their fires, blood-thirsty, unpredictable, diabolical, invincible”
Last night, as I read the order finally passed down by our Governor, Jared Polis, telling us to stay home except for the usual, uh, exceptions, I thought of that lecture. I’m not living in Western Washington on a farm, and we have street lights, but it’s dark in the San Luis Valley. We’ve even been named — or parts of us have been named — National Dark Sky Areas. Out there in the Big Empty, where I walk so happily and peacefully with Bear, night is very dark. Then I thought of all of us hunkered down in our homes, and the scary beast beyond our windows.
I have a painting in mind and it involves an old cottonwood tree growing next to a dirt road in the Big Empty. The painting is from a photograph I took last year in a moment when I saw a painting happening in front of me.
Trees, however, individual trees, are not easy to paint. I did OK on this painting, though. It’s tiny, 7 x 5.
The tree I’m hoping to paint doesn’t look much different from this one, but as it will not be in snow, the demarcation between branches won’t be as easy and THAT, for me, is the big challenge. The other challenge is that I imagine this painting as a very large painting. Maybe THE painting for the big canvas — 4 ft x 6 ft — that’s been languishing in my “studio” for the past two years, but probably not. Such a large painting will take a lot of paint and I don’t think oil paint manufacture and sales is on the list of necessary businesses. Canvas takes more paint than panel, too.
This is the photo, but I cropped it wrong and shortened the road between the viewer and the tree, so when I paint it I’m planning to put the figure a ways down the road so she doesn’t look like she just got out of my car to take a photo of a tree. One of the things that bothers me about the concept, though, is it might be too Andrew Wyeth. I don’t see the Big Empty in the same way Wyeth seems to have seen his world. His painting reflect it (to me) as kind of a bleak place filled with intimate neutral-toned relics of human life. His paintings of nature convey — to me — a troubled relationship between man and nature.
This is an awesome tree, but…
To me many of his paintings say, “Ethan Frome.” Shudder. It’s not that I don’t SEE that in the numerous dilapidated farms in my valley, the numerous log cabins, the frame and adobe buildings where someone tried to make their stand and find their dreams. The thing is there’s no way to know what happened (unless it’s obvious that there was a fire). As sad as a ruined cabin appears, it’s entirely possible that the people who built it and lived there were very happy.
So, in my painting, I want to capture the isolation of the Big Empty, but also my friend’s (and my) feeling when we saw that amazing tree. There was nothing bleak or sad about it.
It’s blowing like an MF out there and we have a red flag warning, but Bear and I are undaunted social distancers, and we showed up for work at the Refuge like always though there was NO ONE to welcome except one stoical magpie.
Bear spent some time studying history, checking to see what changes have transpired along the little trail since last time. There were more than I could ever have imagined. Sadly, she can’t express in detail all of her discoveries.
The sky was magnificent in all directions and changed constantly. Snow is coming in and lenticular clouds hovered above the Sangre de Cristos.
Farmers are plowing which means this windy time of year there is a LOT of dust. Because the gusts were so ferocious, if dust obscured the mountains, it was only for a few minutes. I can’t say it was pleasant walking in 40 mph gusts but it’s oddly like walking uphill. At times Bear walked behind me and I was happy to shelter her from the wind some little bit. I honestly don’t mind at all struggling against what nature is doing. I would have missed so many wonderful things in my life if I didn’t want to hike in the rain or walk in the snow and wind. I guess that’s love. ❤
Because there was literally NO ONE there out there, when we’d finished our “job,” I drove the whole loop. I saw only one crane. You don’t survive as a species for millions of years without knowing enough to stay out of the wind. The geese objected, a few ducks took flight. There were nearly surfable waves on the ponds. A couple of blue birds fighting the wind but soon gave up. In a remote small pond I saw a family of small, brown ducks.
It’s become my ritual to slow down as I pass the farm with the working Pyrenees to see how he’s doing. I’ve observed that when his cattle move, he moves to remain close to them. I send him every good vibe I have in my heart whenever I see him. I also noticed three obviously friendly (with each other) bulls in a separate field. Beautiful creatures.
A word about farmers. My family was farmers for many, many, many generations. My mom’s was the first generation for probably a thousand years that had no farmers. As for me, I have an affinity for it in my heart, at least. It’s one of the things I love about living here. I love seeing a lone tractor in a waiting barley field. I love the animals and watching them every day through the seasons. I love all of it without any direct knowledge of it except that I know it’s a hard life with no real down time. In these anxiety laden and uncertain times, the farmers where I live are out there, not “social distancing” but doing what they always do. Growing food for Americans. When the Potato Festival Rolls around in September, it’s a highlight of the year for me and everyone else. The scary (thunder storms, hail, drought) hard work of summer is nearing an end. Harvest is underway.
If there is any parallel in human life to the uncertainty we’re all facing right now, it’s the uncertainty farmers face every single year, setting forth not knowing what the markets will be, not knowing what the weather will bring, not know if there will be water. So, you know, thank a farmer.
P.S. I walk REALLY fast with a 30 mph gust at my back. 🙂
Long long ago in a cabin outside Bailey, Colorado my friend, Sonia, and I found a Ouija board in a hidey-hole where her childhood toys were also stored. We pulled it out, found the little triangle thing that moves and reveals. Being 19 or so, we were very interested in who was going to be the love of our lives. I loved someone (he may have been the love of my life but that’s another story that I probably told somewhere on this eternal blog) so I was trying VERY VERY hard to TELL that triangle where to go.
We “scryed” for about an hour — until 1 am because that’s the kind of thing you do at midnight. I was very stressed by the whole thing. I felt in my bones I’d done something very wrong. I didn’t sleep and when morning came, I went up a hill to think in the very wet grass and the dew-dripping branches of a spruce tree.
“It’s not your business,” said a voice inside or outside of my head. I’m not going to take a position on that because I’d look psychotic. “You’re going to live it,” said the voice. “It’s my business, not yours.”
And now I know, from my vantage point near the end of the story I was trying to scry, that the Ouija Board might have been trying to tell me by racing all over that board.
I was raised by people who didn’t show their feelings. They also had contempt for (and fear of?) people who did. My mom said, “You’re not a cowboy. You’re a Mexican” speaking not of my nationality but of my personality, my nature. She meant that I was emotional, showed my feelings. Since I love Mexican culture and Mexicans in general, and had to acknowledge how at home I felt in the more Latin world than the cowboy world, I didn’t argue. I got her meaning. Learning as a kid to hide my feelings made it difficult for me as a grown-up to fully understand myself and what was going on around me.
The Montana cowboys in my family had the idea that feeling (and showing) emotions was losing control. The most stark example I have of this was when my mom was in the hospital heading toward death. They did a scan of her brain and discovered that she had been an alcoholic for many, many years. The doctor called me to tell me this and that my mom couldn’t live alone. I was shocked. I didn’t know she was a drunk. She was very skillful at hiding it. When I hung up the phone, my aunts wanted to know what the doctor had said, but I was crying. I was going to tell them, but for that moment, I couldn’t.
“Quit yer’ cryin’,” said my truly loving Aunt Jo. “You have work to do.”
Crying at that moment wouldn’t prevent me from the work I had to do, finding my mom a place to live and the rest of it. The way I’m constituted, going THROUGH the emotions would make it easier. I needed to physically feel my feelings, the shock and the sorrow in the message I’d just heard.
Do I think it’s better to feel emotions than not? Yes, I do. I learned in therapy — and from subsequent life experience — that emotions have information for us. Knowing what they have to tell us helps us make choices.
I feel a lot of that cowboy stuff around me now. We’re cowboys out here; it’s all “chin up” and “put a good face on it” and “What can I do to help?” — great in its way but… I know people feel things. I do. Not fear, particularly. I’m not really afraid of dying except for what will happen to Teddy and Bear, but I realized on my walk with Teddy this afternoon that I’m very angry as well as sad. I have a dear friend in Italy where this nightmare has been raging.
My mind and heart a storm of feeling, I decided to head out to The Big Empty, the best “shrink” I know. When Bear wouldn’t let me catch her (I don’t know what’s going on with her lately) I took Teddy and my bad mood to the refuge. It was Teddy’s first trip out there.
On the way, Mohammed’s Radio, clearly realizing my desperate condition, played “Rocky Mountain High” as a way to say, “Hey, Sweet Cheeks, you’ve lost the big picture here. I’m here.”
There were a LOT of Crane Tourists today. Most of them stay in their cars and drive right past the cranes but OH WELL. There was one car that was NOT Crane Tourists, but a couple who was there for exercise. Not both of them. One of them was clearly an elite runner in her late fifties. The driver of the car drove beside the runner reminding me of some people I saw at the lake last year who drove beside their leashed dog while he exercised by running beside the car. The runner drove Teddy nuts. As a herding dog he felt the necessity to go get her and bring her back to the fold. He’s the kind of dog who would chase cars.
There were many cranes. I heard frogs for the first time this spring. Geese and redwing blackbirds. No meadowlarks or bluebirds today; no Killdeer. It was a glorious clear day out there. New snow on the mountains. A couple of hunting (and disappointed) bald eagles.
Then, in a pond near the road which is a favorite spot of Canadian Geese and cranes, I noticed a gander taking a gander (ha ha) at me, apparently. He started swimming toward me calling and calling and calling. A bunch of his buddies were following along. What? Teddy was captivated and would’ve gone for him, I think (I’d have bet on the goose).
We watched and I wondered WHAT that goose (who kept swimming toward me) was actually after and THEN when he got near the bank, I heart a crazy goose commotion from a patch of high reeds. It looked — and sounded — like he’d intentionally swum into enemy territory!
Back at Bella, Teddy securely fastened in (he’s so small he has to ride in front with a doggy seat-belt), I turned on the car. This time *Mohammed’s radio blasted me with a song I don’t think I’ve heard since high school, a song I didn’t like, even. But, today, it seemed to be the Valley reminding me where I am and how I feel about it (and it about me? I believe so…). I just sat in the car, looked out at the Big Empty (which I love so much) and cried.
And felt better, with clearer thoughts and gratitude for where I am, for the people in this valley who have stepped up in a hundred different ways to help their neighbors, for the landscape that makes my heart soar all the time. “You live here,” the Big Empty said, “This Heaven is your home. The right emotion is gratitude.” I cried some more.
I’m just not a cowboy.
*An explanation of “Mohammed’s Radio,” When I was a teenager I (and many others, I’m sure) looked for relationship help in pop songs. I know, I know, pitiful but really, at 14? 15? (“Cherish is the word I use to descriiiibe, all the feeling that I have hiding here for you insiiiiide” right?)
From there evolved the semi-serious theory that the car radio is kind of an oracle. It isn’t but still it’s surprising how often the car radio is on the money.
P.S. The pretty mountain which stands somewhat alone in the center of the featured photo is Mt. Herard. The strip of gray/tan below it is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. ❤
President Obama is a Boomer. Let that sink in young, ageist death-wish folks. Yesterday on Twitter a journalist wrote something about his shock at the ageism that’s emerged from the COVID-19 virus fear. The resulting thread was full of “death to boomers.” Then some politician from Texas said he was sure that every 80 year old grandmother would be willing to die so her grandchildren could have a good economy. What?
The virus has brought some dark reality to the fore. In Spain and Italy there are not enough ventilators for all the desperately ill people so they’ve had to decide to ventilate younger people and the the elders die (or not). I see the logic, but I also think that has got to be excruciating for doctors who’ve vowed to preserve life. But such decisions are not new to human existence.
As a result of this, I’m going to attempt a social media “diet” as it’s called. I’m not optimistic of success, but I’m going to give it a shot. The main challenge is that I’m kind of hooked. I thank WP for that and a contest I found myself entered in (it was an honor). You might have noticed a “badge” on my page, “Annual Blogger Bash Nominated Blog 2018 — Best Overall Blog.”
It was the strangest thing. I was (as always) minding my own business and I got a notification that I’d been nominated for this award. What? If you won you got a prize and you could take yourself to a party in England. It was very cool because it had come out of nowhere. So, I followed them on Facebook and did all the other things I was supposed to. The contest was very active on Twitter so I became more active on Twitter, a strange, nasty, evil place — but addictive. I followed some blogs, voted for some blogs, and NEVER found whoever it was had nominated me. In the process I “met” two women I like very much. Erin who writes Unbound Roots and Shannon of Must Hike, Must Eat.
I learned a lot from the experience. I didn’t win, but it was fun being nominated. The next year I was contacted about participating, but the contest had changed. The blogs were separated into categories — cooking, the outdoors, child-raising — stuff like that. My blog doesn’t fit any category (that I can see).
As for Boomers — where I live Boomers keep everything going. There’s not much work here, so many young people (who aren’t farming) have to leave. There would be no food bank, no after-school programs, no museums if retired people didn’t step up to do those things. If the 80 year old who runs the Rio Grande County museum weren’t there, there would be no internship for the high school kid who LOVES history, the museum, and the chance to set up exhibits. What training that 17 year old is getting! The local food bank is begging for volunteers right now because it doesn’t think that the elderly people who do 90% of the work should be working now because of the danger of all that public contact. The quilt guilds (we have them here) have mobilized to sew masks and they are, yep, run by boomers.
The niche filled by boomers in my little world is very important yet delicate. Many boomers are raising their grandkids. Some are substitute teaching. All over the place, they’re stepping in where someone needs it. Maybe we should all be sitting in our rockers on our porches, but we’re not. Well I am, but I figure after 35 yers teaching 10,000 people to write and think, helping save 5800 acres of chaparral wilderness from developers, working to raise funds for a mental health facility for Asian refugees, etc. it’s OK for me to savor the passing parade. My life has been — and is — so far from the stereotype as are the lives of most of the “Boomers” I know.
Featured photo: me walking down a hill at Penetente Canyon, 2017
My theory of life and maturation is that we have to go through all the stages of life sooner or later. I missed out on my adolescence, so I had to make up for it. This happened in my early 40s. I was floundering around trying to figure out where to go next with life and this transition — the one I’d missed — was necessary if I was going to move forward. Since I don’t want to write a true confessions here (fascinating though the story is!) suffice it to say that when I think of the music I grew up with, I think of bands like Primus, Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry, not The Beatles. I was a huge fan of industrial punk music (still am). It was a natural transition from loving hardcore in the 80s.
I have a clear and happy memory of going to a movie with some friends and sitting in the back seat on the way to a bar, singing “Jesus Built my Hotrod” with Gavin. “Jesus built my hotrod. It’s a love affair, mainly Jesus and my hotrod.”
So, Gen X? Thank you for the music.
What was it like being 19 at age 41? For one thing, I wasn’t underage, but I might have had to buy a six-pack at a 7-11 for friends (from Europe, truth). The people I hung around with were mostly in their 20s. I was pretty well-preserved (at that point) and the only giveaway (according to one of my friends) was my “old lady hands.”
Music. The Boys on Bikes (with whom I hung out more than anyone else, the kids in my neighborhood) were at the age when people define themselves by the stuff they listen to. My truck had a tape deck (88 Ford Ranger) and out of that thing blared Metallica (often) Pearl Jam (not for long) and then the day came when Jimmy (age 16) said, “You’ll like this,” and plopped a Sex Pistols tape in. Of course I liked it. I’d always liked it. That was followed by Dead Kennedy’s (“Holiday in Cambodia” was their favorite but it’s profoundly truthful so why not?) Then there was Fart No More.
That whole moment of my life was filled with hiking, mountain bike riding, concerts, friends and music. Teaching? I was earning a living. I remembered thinking that the whole idea of a midlife crisis was stupid but I was having one.
As I write this blog, I listen to a radio station in Kansas City that plays this music every morning between 9 and 10 (their time). It’s great. Brings back my youth.
(featured photo: Hallowe’en costume. It made people scream because they didn’t see it until they got close enough)
I’m an older person so I get to shop at the store at privileged times. That’s cool and/or not since it’s from 7 to 8 am and I like to sleep in. BUT if it comes to that… Someone complained on Facebook about young people showing up to shop at that time, and I thought, “There are a lot of people out there with invisible disabilities.”
I’m one of them. I have AERD, Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease. Aspirin will kill me. It will throw me into anaphylactic shock, close my airways, compress my lungs. Not just aspirin, though. All NSAIDs. Anything that is overloaded with salicylic acid. The disease causes nasal polyps another enemy to breathing. Another symptom is hives. I’m lucky because it’s been controlled pretty easily. Other people have it much worse. Doctors don’t diagnose it easily; many have never heard of it and don’t think of it. I was lucky to have found a great ENT in San Diego who sent me to a brilliant allergist. That was after two years of very scary moments in which I literally couldn’t breathe.
It’s impossible to know if the young person shopping during old person’s hour is suffering from AERD, or Lupus, or any number of other invisible illnesses that make him/her vulnerable if attacked by any random respiratory illness. This virus is especially dangerous because hospitals don’t have the equipment they need.
I found myself incredibly angry at Offal today. Reading that he’s offered help to North Korea when he has done little to help the people in his own nation sent me into a quiet rage. He knew about this MONTHS ago (we all did) and only an idiot thinks a virus respects national borders. MONTHS ago he should have been ramping up the production of ventilators, pushing for a vaccine (and not by trying to co-opt a German company), and producing tests that would make the daily statistics meaningful.
So I’m being careful. Not rabidly careful. I realized, from the process of educating myself, that one could, in order to protect themself from this virus, spend every moment of their lives cleaning something. While that might be the vaunted “abundance of caution,” if I’m going to die from this, I’d rather have lived a little life during this time. My care is pretty much limited to just avoiding people and staying at home, venturing out only to wander in the Big Empty. Thank God there’s a lot of it here.
My next trip to the store is a week from today. No one will object to me taking my old self through the front door early in the morning. I just think it’s important to remember that a lot of people are secretly, quietly, invisibly, messed up.
Anyone who votes for Trump this November after this, is, IMO, an enemy of the people.
“Lamont, I have some big — and I mean big — news for you.”
“Calm down, Dude. There’s nothing — and I mean literally NOTHING — worth getting that excited about. How was the museum?”
“Great. Well, it’s closed to visitors. Regular employees are still working, but, you know, virus.”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to go.”
“They were short handed. The guy doing prelims on new fossils, well, dark times, but he’ll be back.”
“I found us.”
“Us. And you were never a wooly mammoth, you big lug. There were no wooly mammoths here. Only Columbian mammoths. You were much, much larger.”
“Well, of course! Sometimes I disappoint me.”
“Remember all the times we talked about how weird it would be to run into ourselves in some lifetime?”
“Can’t happen without a time machine, Dude.”
“Well, that tar pit. If there’s a time machine anywhere it’s that tarpit. ANYHOO there are these wooden sheds in which the paleontologists put all the bones they find in a given week, all boxed and dated, for some grunt to clean up. I’m the grunt for now. I was working on a box, scraping off tar, dirt and time and…”
“Get to the point, Dude, what do you mean you ‘found us’?”
“Hang on, Lamont. It’s a really interesting story. So I’m scraping time’s detritus from the bones of these beasts and who’d believe it?”
“I probably won’t.”
“Cynicism is a cheap choice, Lamont.”
“Or earned through time and experience, Dude.”
“Fair enough. So in a box dated 15,000 years ago — that’s what I was working on today — I pulled out a huge bone, a mastodon tibia, weighed a ton, and a jaw, lower jaw, Smilodon jaw. I got a shock like a heavy electric current running through my whole body. Remember back when we were in that band?”
“I wasn’t in that band, Dude. That was your iteration, not mine.”
“Right, well, anyway, it was like when that idiot put the lava lamp in the sink thinking it would look cool in water, and anyway my mic was plugged into the same socket. A shock, just like that was. Then I knew. It was something important, for me, anyway. That place has mastodon tibias and Smilodon jaws coming out the yin-yang. I cleaned off the tibia and saw the tooth marks. I cleaned off the jaw. Sure enough. A beast knows its own mouth, right?”
“C’mon Dude, you can’t expect me to believe that.”
“You have this problem, Lamont. You think because you remember all those iterations that you remember them right. You don’t get everything right. You need to be more open to learning new things, well, in this case an old thing, but whatev’.”
“You’re saying I was a Columbian mammoth and you found me?”
“Yeah, Lamont. That’s just what I’m saying.”
“How in hell did you take me down, then? I was probably 14 feet tall and weighed ten tons!”
“That’s the thing. We’ve always imagined — I can’t call it ‘thought’ anymore, Lamont, because we were not informing ourselves. You can’t think without decent information. Now we can think about it. Smilodon didn’t hunt alone. They hunted in packs.”
“CATS? In PACKS???”
“Yep. So basically, I just did a number on your tibia. My mates took you down. It was a hot day, too, or we wouldn’t have wound up in the tar like that. I wasn’t even fully grown.”
“Good God, Dude. This is amazing.”
“Right? I learned something else about you, the mastodon.”
“What? Besides you were instrumental in my death?”
“Lamont, you were over sixty years old. I don’t think you were able to keep up with the herd any more. You were a very old mastodon and I was a very young Smilodon. This might have been my first hunt.”
“Yeah. You want a beer?”
Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them an unusual perspective on life, the universe and everything. If this entertained you and you’d like more, just type Lamont and Dude into the search bar on my blog. 🙂